Movie Review: Jane Campion’s BRIGHT STAR

f&k dancing

Before I get to my review, I want to mention something funny that happened on my way into the Variety screening of Bright Star. There was a red carpet premiere taking place at the same multiplex where the screening was held but I had no intention of stopping to gape. Sometimes I just get annoyed at all the security and photogs who get in my way.

hughBut then I saw Hugh Laurie. I just stumbled upon Dr. House on a random Thursday evening! Most of you probably know I’m a huge fan of his and there he was, a cane’s length away from me. He was sporting a cropped do which he’d said helps him look like a mental patient (I disagree). Turned out the event was for House‘s season 6 premiere (airing next Monday, 9/21) and once I peeled my eyes off Laurie and looked down the line, I saw Lisa Edelstein, Jesse Spencer, Olivia Wilde and Robert Sean Leonard walking the carpet, too. I guess this time, the paps are forgiven.


OK, on to the review.

f&K kissingJane Campion has created a gorgeous piece of art. Bright Star (limited U.S. release today) is about the romance between the poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw) and his muse Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish), the spirited girl next door who is good at fashion and sewing. At first, she has no interest in poems and he thinks fashion is frivolous. But once she reads his Endymion, she asks him to teach her how to appreciate poetry. Soon, a passionate love blooms between them, rudely cut short by his death at 25.

curtainsIn this age of 3D movies with overblown budgets, director/writer Campion has created something almost magical—a full-bodied, 2D movie with a $13-million budget that seems to stimulate all five senses. In a scene where Fanny lies on her bed with the wind blowing seductively through her curtains, you can almost feel the coolness on your skin. You can smell the flowers in her garden, watch the brightly colored butterflies flitting about in her room (as part of her butterfly farm), taste the soup Keats slurps gingerly to soothe a cough and hear the wonderful a capella singing and violin playing which occur often in the Brawne household.

As Fanny, Cornish is definitely the bright star of this movie. Looking like a cross between younger versions of Nicole Kidman and Charlize Theron, she shines with intelligence, wit and spunk. In the last five minutes of the film, she’s devastating. She’s been on the cusp of stardom with significant turns in Elizabeth: The Golden Age and Stop-Loss; I hope this role pushes her over the edge.

Whishaw does solid work as Keats and generates chemistry with Cornish that’s more playful than sizzling. I thought he looked a little too old in the movie to play Keats from 23-25 years old (perhaps because of facial scruff) but when he showed up afterwards to do Q & A, he looked about 12.


Schneider as Brown


Schneider as himself

As Keats’s best friend, Charles Brown, Paul Schneider is practically unrecognizable with facial hair, ample girth and Scottish brogue. Though I’ve seen this character actor (and so have you) in lots of roles like Ryan Gosling’s brother in Lars and the Real Girl and the guy Amy Poehler has a crush on in Parks and Recreation, I didn’t know it was him until he showed up for the Q & A, clean-shaven and speaking in his native American accent. Then my reaction was “Oh, it’s that guy!” His transformation is quite impressive.

There are a few factors which might deter some moviegoers from seeing this movie: lack of big stars, period piece, poetry being a main topic. Let me emphatically say there’s no need to worry. I’m practically illiterate when it comes to poetry, always hitting a mental block whenever I try reading it (Campion said in the Q & A she had the same problem when she was younger). But this movie still made me swoon because the actors are very good at conveying the feeling behind the words. All you have to do is let the beauty wash over you.

Nerd verdict: A Bright Star indeed to start off Oscar season

9 responses to “Movie Review: Jane Campion’s BRIGHT STAR

  1. I sooo want to see that movie. I think Abbie Cornish is a little understated as an actress, but has a whole lot of potential.

    Let’s see… let’s see.

  2. Hi Poncho,

    She is understated but so compelling, trusting the stillness and the pauses, knowing she doesn’t have to overact to make her emotions clear. Not many young actors can do that well.

  3. Generally, I’m not into period pieces – well, I am if there is action, swords, action, combat, and action in them. But, Campion is a very talented writer/director. I may check it out with the spouse. It’s not a weepie, is it?

    • Well, um, you know what happens to John Keats, right? I didn’t exactly weep but Cornish’s performance at the end did make my eyes leak. You can always claim allergies or dust in your eyes if the same happens to you.

      I think your wife will be extra nice to you afterward if you take her to this. Maybe you’ll get The Beatles: Rock Band!

  4. I’ll take tissues. I’m not big on period pieces or poetry but I’m happy to let beauty wash over me, so I’m glad you mentioned that, PCN! And of course, I’m biased with the Cornish/Campion factors.

  5. I caught a screening of Bright Strs this past weekend, and it was a beautiful and well-directed film. You should check out the film’s official site, where they just announced the Love Letter Contest. Those who enter will have to submit a hand-made love letter or love tweet for their chance to win two unique pieces of jewelry from A Diamond Is Forever. Runners up will receive a fountain pen from Montblanc. Find more details here:
    Love Campion, and this film looks it will be another one of her masterpieces!

    • Welcome mz_reel,

      I heard about that contest! I meant to update my post but got busy. Thank you for mentioning it.

      You all can go to the movie’s website by clicking here or on its title in the first sentence.

  6. I’m a Jane Campion fan, a Ben Wishaw admirer and an amateur poet, so I guess I’ll like that one!
    Thanks for the recommendation, PCN! 🙂

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